Once upon a time, The Bronx had twin sternwheelers. The boats were not on Long Island Sound or the Hudson River. These showboats also were not in operation during the 1800s or early 1900s.
The showboats were an attraction at the popular theme park Freedomland U.S.A. that opened on June 19, 1960 and brought history to life in the form of “the world’s largest entertainment center.” The sternwheelers operated on the park’s man-made waterway that recreated the Great Lakes.
Freedomland was conceived and built by C.V. Wood. He helped Walt Disney build Disneyland and then he created his own company to develop theme parks across the country. Freedomland occupied the property now covered by sections of the Co-op City housing development and its adjacent shopping center in the northeast section of The Bronx. The park closed after the 1964 season.
The sternwheelers, dubbed The American and The Canadian, were built by Todd Shipyards Corporation. Todd’s San Pedro, California, operations had built Disneyland’s Mark Twain hull during the mid-1950s while the two Freedomland sternwheelers were built by Todd’s Hoboken, New Jersey, unit and transported to The Bronx location.
The Freedomland hulls were 110 feet long. Each boat could accommodate 400 park guests. By comparison, Disney’s boat was 105 feet long and it handled 300 passengers.
The Freedomland boats docked in the Old Chicago themed area of the park, sharing the waterway with mini-tugboats that docked in the nearby Little Old New York area of the park and with canoes that passed Native American villages and an island filled with wild game.
Twin Boats Separated
After the park closed, the attractions and everything else at Freedomland were auctioned, sold or discarded. Both boats were moved by two separate new owners to Connecticut. That is when the story became a bit murky.
For some unknown reason, maybe incorrect newspaper reports from the time or misinformation by word of mouth, one of the sternwheelers, believed at the time to be The Canadian, was converted into the Showboat restaurant and moored on the Byrum River in Greenwich. The other boat traveled farther north to its new home.
A number of years ago, the Freedomland sternwheeler located in Greenwich obtained a new owner. He moved the boat across the river to Port Chester, New York, where it now is docked as a privately-owned party boat. During 50 years as a restaurant and party boat, this Freedomland boat, now without its sternwheel, incorrectly has been referred to by many as The Canadian. Consequently, the other boat from the park that floated in Moodus (town of East Haddam) was thought to be The American.
Extensive recent research, however, has determined that the boats were misidentified at some unknown date. The Freedomland boat in Port Chester actually is The American. At about 18 miles from its original location, The American, during all these years, has been the Freedomland attraction that remained closest to The Bronx park’s location. The Canadian, unfortunately, was destroyed more than 10 years ago.
Posts Tell The Story
From June 2 to June 18, the Freedomland U.S.A. Facebook page will provide 13 posts—“The Updated Story of the Freedomland Sternwheelers”—that will reveal the accurate story about The Canadian after it was purchased and moved to an old-time village attraction known as Johnsonville Village. Relying on newspaper archival information, photos and online research, the story about this sternwheeler allows theme park historians to finally determine the post-Freedomland storylines for both boats.
In its photo album “Sternwheelers and Tugboats,” the Freedomland Facebook page contains photos of the surviving boat (The American) that were captured several years ago. The information that accompanies these photos originally misidentified the surviving boat as The Canadian. With the newly discovered information, the details will be updated with the correct information soon after the “Updated Story” June posts are made public.
So, at least for now, one of Freedomland’s sternwheelers, The American, still can be seen at the dock in Port Chester.